At Easter, all Christians are witnesses!

At Easter, all Christians are witnesses! April 7, 2023

Beyond the tomb... (Courtesy of Unsplash)
Courtesy of Unsplash


Lester Tanner wasn’t trying to make a name for himself when he shared the story of the man who saved his life during World War II.

But he did, nonetheless, when he revealed a story that his hero had never shared.

Tanner gone on to become an attorney after serving in World War II. He was living in New York and was being interviewed by the New York Times regarding a real estate deal in which he had been involved when he mentioned to the reporter that he had fought in World War II, that he had been a prisoner of war, and that he owed his life to a Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds.

Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds, who hailed from Knoxville, had never talked much about the war after he came home – especially not the time that he spent as a prisoner of war in a camp near Ziegenhain, Germany. It was only after Edmonds had died that his son, Chris, was doing some research on his father’s military service and happened to find the article in which Lester Tanner mentioned his father. And the rest, we can truly say is history.

Tanner was one of about 1,000 American soldiers who had been taken prisoner during the Battle of the Bulge and held at the Ziegenhain camp. He recalled the day that the Nazi commander of the camp approached Edmonds, the ranking non-commisioned officer (NCO) at the camp, asking him to identify the Jewish soldiers who had been captured. Jewish soldiers feared the punishment that might be exacted on them if they were identified.

The American prisoners of war were standing in formation when Edmonds, without hesitation, responded to the Nazi commander, “We are all Jews.” The commander was stunned, and asked again. Edmonds gave the same reply: “We are all Jews.” Frustrated, the commander threatened Edmonds, but Edmonds gave the same answer: “We are all Jews. If you kill any of us, you must kill us all.” The Nazi commander was enraged, but he stormed away without hurting any of the men.

Edmonds’ story of courage and unity might have been lost to us forever but for the witnesses – the ones who were there, the ones who saw what Edmonds did, the ones whose lives Edmonds saved. But the witnesses – Lester Tanner, Paul Stern, and many others – kept the story alive and shared it with others, making it possible for generations to come to know of Edmonds’ sacrifice. The witnesses ensured that Edmonds story would live on.

When Mary Magdalene stumbled away from the empty tomb more than 2,000 years ago, she likely had no idea about the power of the witness that she would bear. The story to which she would bear witness wasn’t just any story: It was a story of love and hope unlike any other story told before. In the account of the Resurrection story found in John’s Gospel, we imagine Mary Magdalene racing from the empty tomb back to the homes of her friends, awaking them in those early morning hours, telling them that Jesus was alive! Who would believe her? Peter and John had already come back to the empty tomb at her behest, but they left as quickly as they had come – and they had seen no one. Why would anyone believe her fanciful story that she had waited, she had lingered, and in her overwhelming grief, her Lord had called her name? That he had been standing right there next to her? The days that had passed since Jesus had died had been emotional, draining, grueling, frightening. Her story could have been passed off as the hysterical exaggerations of a tired and emotional woman who hadn’t slept.

However unbelievable her story might have sounded, she had obeyed her Lord, and raced off to tell the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” The world needed her witness so that others might know and believe.

At Easter, Christians throughout the world stand as witnesses who peer into that empty tomb and choose, rather than to hurriedly depart, to stay, to linger, to weep, to pray, to wait for the holy presence of our Lord Jesus Christ to seep in to our souls and bodies.

At Easter, Christians throughout the world stand as witnesses who are called to go out to spread the good news of Christ’s Resurrection and to share his message of love and hope in a world that is filled with far too many messages of hate, violence and destruction.

At Easter, Christians throughout the world stand as witnesses who close ranks around the vulnerable and persecuted. We refuse to surrender one another to the forces of destruction that would take the lives of any who are made in the image and likeness of God. We stand together, as people of God, to embrace one another and to hold one another up. And we stand together as people filled with the love of God – love infectious enough to send hate running for cover.

At Easter, we celebrate love – given for us, love risen for us. Alleluia! Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

About The Rev. Dr. Dorothy Sanders Wells
The Rev. Dr. Dorothy Sanders Wells is a priest and pastor in Memphis, Tennessee who writes about issues of justice and equity for all of God's people. You can read more about the author at, and more of her writings can be found at You can read more about the author here.

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